MEMORIA. Women in the Mountain.

AICA Hellas Theorimata 2: On History

October 1st – November 2nd 2020

EMST (National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens), Temporary exhibitions space (-1)

MEMORIA. Women in the Mountain. Notebook 1: Readings, Notebook 2: The journey, Material: Videos of the public readings.

Curator: Bia Papadopoulou

Voices through silence. In the exhibition “Theorimata on History” by AICA Hellas at the EMST, in the Temporary exhibitions space, one may find my work MEMORIA. Women in the Mountain, curated by Bia Papadopoulou. One may find there the women and their stories. They come out of a years-long silence, at an important turning-point of contemporary Greek History, the condemnation by the court of law of Golden Dawn.

The 14 women are:

Xenia or Xenoula Athanassaki, Andriani Katartzoglou, Vagelio or Vagela Kladou aka Maria, Pagona Kokovli aka Katerina, Maria or Marika Ledaki, Koula Marathaki, Maria or Mario or Marika Boraki aka Teacher, Eleni Xerogiannaki, Eleni-Nitsa Papagiannaki aka Electra, Argyro Polycrhonaki, Eleftheria Papadogianni, Georgia Skevaki aka Skevogeorgia, Antonia Trikounaki, Athina Handabi.

There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair [verweilen: a reference to Goethe’s Faust], to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.[1]

 My decision to create a work regarding the women and their exodus to the Mountain, in Western Crete, was almost physical, stormy, it practically overwhelmed me; it was a need that was imperative. It felt like moving ahead, it felt like vertigo. Although it has to do with memory―since dealing with past lives―, the story is present, it deploys itself in the here and now, it concerns us, it concerns our present as women of this land, it concerns the feminist movement today and the way it’s being shaped.

It is important to get to know the History, to remain silent―to listen. To escape the mimicking of situations found in foreign countries, foreign histories, foreign experiences, foreign struggles. It is important to find continuity within our land, its history, its silences.

It is important to write, to read trivial and grand stories of women who left for the mountains, who became guerilla fighters, however big the gap that cannot be registered in order to understand the present, that’s escaping us swiftly.

The Mountains, the White Mountains, with their caves, the canyons, the gorges… They stand imperious in the midst of our land.

Now there are roads, maps, paths; but even so, there are moments when the Mountains do scare us.

Only fragments, hints, remain of the stories of these women, of their broken lives. But also, many prolonged silences and untold feelings―manifesting their presence around me, since I was a little girl, at the time I was living in Chania. It was necessary for me to connect the fragments, to manage to hear the silences―those of my mother, those within my family, within the city. These are silences that I still sense around me. The best way to speak of them would have been a prolonged silence that would lead to the light; and to experience the emotions on behalf of the women that did not live, the women whose body flew into the ether, up in the Mountains. There are almost no voices to be listened to; there are no witnesses. The voice―when it comes to historical cases as such―becomes a stuttering, inarticulate cries, given that what happened there, towards the end, remains almost unuttered.

The women, the ones who survived, were crushed by the defeat, by the loss of their comrades in the Mountain, by what they saw and lived, by the imprisonment, the exile, and the problems they encountered within society later on. They didn’t claim but too little, they didn’t write, they didn’t speak; they left behind them what they had conquered. Their families were ruined, traumatized―they simply wanted to forget and to live on. The men, upon their return, began to treat them differently; sharing and companionship were forgotten; once more, men became masters, and the Party itself made women return to their previous position, in the household.

I chose the land of Crete, Chania, and these particular women of the Mountains of Western Crete because, during my wanderings, I used visit a site, where I now rarely now go and where my personal trauma, my story lies: my aunt―killed and decapitated―whose name I now bear; my mother, who never spoke of her, and her life-long mourning; the women in Chania, her relatives and friends―like my aunt from Kefalas, in the province of Apokoronas―; the women that I felt kept a secret from me since my childhood; the women who lived a life that was different from the one they had imagined and wished for. This other life haunted them, but they were afraid to recall it and, so, they scattered their lives in the everyday-banality. Sometimes, they would recall these stories, these other women; and they would then almost mutter.

For society, the women in the Mountain were Federici’s witches,[2] they were uncanny. Communists, dressed in men’s clothes, young, beautiful, free. For the reactionary they could but only be dissolute. But instead, they were heroines of an ancient Greek tragedy, who stood up until the very end, who sacrificed themselves; but who also no longer had a voice to speak up. Although personal diaries and archives were found, the enemies destroyed them. And even the archives of the Communist Party are not accessible. There is no photographic material whatsoever. Argyro Kokovli was―to my knowledge―the only surviving woman partisan to write about her life in the Mountain. It was hard to narrate the unuttered.

What took most of my time and energy was the Archives of two Chania newspapers, Kyrix (messenger) and Paratiritis (observer). I spent hours over these dusty issues. Exporting of citrus fruits and the lottery lucky numbers were on the same page as the killing and the shaming of the corpse of Maria Boraki.

On the other hand, there were the newspaper and journal archives of POEN (Pancretan Organization of Free Youth) and EPON (United Panhellenic Youth Organization) of Chania. These women were formed through the intensive reading of newspapers, journals, books, and with the help of self-education groups. No, these women did not change by chance. I was impressed, though, by the fact that―as the staff of the Municipal Library and the Historical Archive of Chania told me―no research has been done on the subject. There are of course parties and organizations that have given relative lectures and events. But no researcher has dealt with this matter yet. Just think that none of these women now lives…

Grete Salus, an Auschwitz survivor, wrote that man should never have to bear everything that he can bear, nor should he ever have to see how this suffering to the most extreme power no longer has anything human about it.”[3]It was the authorities that went to extremes at that time.

Presently, it was the willingness of the young girls to read the stories of these women that impressed me. The ‘openness’ of Theano Boraki, when talking of her aunt. Her direct way of overcoming the unuttered.

The word ibbur, in Judaic mysticism, means pregnancy and refers to the temporary migration of an extra soul in the body of a living person in order for a project to be accomplished.[4]

For several years now I feel I owe a debt to ‘Electra,’ but also to her women comrades in the Mountain and to myself. Like something is needed for us to move Forward. This part of History did not last long―almost two and a half years―but time shows itself in full density, compact. There are no voices, there are no witnesses, since they were hushed under circumstances that cannot be uttered. There are the Mountains and the young women of now. And the protests, the claiming of rights, the voices that multiply by the day.

To speak up―to remain silent―to write of the women who stood up till the end, just like the heroines of ancient tragedy, who sacrificed themselves. The had become one with the Mountain, they resembled the wild birds, they were free, they flew high above the Mountains. In their exodus, they combined the anti-fascist and anti-imperialistic struggles with the struggle for survival, for freedom, for solidarity. The way things were, they knew that meeting with the enemy meant fearing rape and shaming. And, although at the same time, in other countries, rape and shaming were already being condemned, in Greece, the public shaming of a woman guerrilla fighter was considered legal and a praiseworthy act.

The women in the Mountain, the guerrilla fighters, just like flowers, turn their blossoms towards the sun to shine in the light of History. Let’s talk using words and meanings that have not been uttered during that condensed time of their lives.

Eleni Tzirtzilaki


[1] W. Benjamin (1940 / 2005), On the Concept of History. Dennis Redmond (transl.).

[2] Cf. S. Federici (2018), Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women.

[3] G. Agamben (1999), Homo Sacer III – Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. D. Heller-Roazen (transl.), p. 76.

[4] I. Ventouras (2018), Οι Εβραίοι της Κρήτης, 1900-1950 [The Jews of Crete, 1900-1950].